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Balance transfer deals are looking more attractive than ever as 0% interest free periods get longer and fees hit a record low.
According to the Moneyfacts UK Unsecured Lending Trends Treasury Report, which looks across the UK personal finance market, the average introductory interest-free period has passed the 600-day mark for the first time since 2018. The average interest-free term is now 602 days, up from 577 in December and 530 this time last year.
Interest-free purchase card terms have also improved slightly over the last quarter, with the average interest-free period rising from 303 days in December to 307 days in March. This is a significant improvement from the average 284 days seen a year ago.
Balance transfer deals are getting cheaper, Moneyfacts data reveals. Balance transfer fees have fallen to 1.95% on average, down from 2.23% a year ago and the lowest level since 2006.
However, average purchase APRs on credit cards where interest is charged are rising. The average APR, including card fees, increased to 26.3% in the first quarter. This is within a whisker of the highest rate on record – 26.4% in October last year. New cards charging higher than average rates last month contributed to this increase.
There is more choice of deals now compared to this time last year, with 69 balance transfer deals on the market with an interest-free introductory period, and 62 deals available which offer an interest-free period on purchases.
These latest moves in the credit card market will be welcome news for consumers with credit card balances who want to shift their debts to an interest-free deal, says Rachel Springall, finance expert at Moneyfacts.
“The average term on an introductory 0% balance transfer card is at its highest in almost four years, while the growth in choice is also encouraging since we saw the number of deals fall to a record low during July to August 2020,” she says. “Those looking to move their debts will also see the average introductory balance transfer fee has fallen to 1.95%, which is 0.35% less than in March 2020.”
Springall highlights some of the changes made recently by credit card providers: Sainsbury’s Bank boosted the length of its balance transfer card interest-free period by one month to 24; Santander increased its fee-free deal from 18 to 21 months. A market-leading 35-month interest free deal from Virgin Money dropped to 32 months, however. One of the most competitive deals now is from MBNA, with the longest 0% period of 33 months.
“The average UK credit card debt per household in December 2021, according to The Money Charity was £2,112, a balance that could be cleared in one year if £180 was paid off each month without interest being applied. However, if consumers stick to the minimum repayment, even a debt of this size could hang overhead for many years,” Springall explains.
“The best 0% balance transfer card for someone may not be the one with longest interest-free offer, as there are credit cards out there with low balance transfer fees or even charging no fee. Not every borrower will be eligible for a headline-grabbing deal, but it’s always wise for consumers to check their credit score before they apply, such as with Experian. If customers are struggling to keep up with their repayments amid the rising cost of living, they would do well to seek help from a debt advice charity,” she adds.
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